Marigolds, lighthouse keepers and perseverance – the rest of the story

Mourning dove peaks out from the marigolds - Mark Weller

July 6, 2023

Several weeks ago, Friends of the Apostle Islands ran a story featurng the Edgar Guest poem connecting lighthouses, the age of automation and the end of an era for caretaker families who brought life, meaning, human touch, and memories to the stoic buildings that dot our shores.

The poem ends with the line, “And will ever that automatic thing plant marigolds in early spring?” And the story noted my tradition of planting marigolds on my deck each spring, as homage to those families.

Marigolds in bloom in a container

Well, I have a new family to introduce to you. Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? From under the canopy of the marigolds I caught an eye peeking above the planter. A mourning dove family moved in.

Mourning dove parents - Mark Weller
Mourning dove eggs in the nest - Mark Weller

A quickly built nest followed by two eggs and 14 long days of incubation, each parent taking shifts and rarely leaving their marigold hideout for more than a few moments.

I’m told that mourning doves have the longest incubation period of any North American bird. Protecting those eggs – hour after hour – echoed for me the hard lonely hours the lighthouse families must have endured. Profound dedication, single in purpose, lonely sentinels doing their jobs.

On Independence Day two chicks hatched, and my simple memorial to the lighthouse families and their dedication to a solitary job, now has a new family, perhaps a fitting connection to the power of perseverance.

– Mark Weller

Mourning dove babies - Mark Weller

The Lighthouse Keeper Wonders
by Edgar Guest (1881 – 1959)

The light I have tended for 40 years
is now to be run by a set of gears.
The Keeper said, And it isn’t nice
to be put ashore by a mere device.
Now, fair or foul the wind that blow
or smooth or rough the sea below,
It is all the same. The ships at night
will run to an automatic light.

The clock and gear which truly turn
are timed and set so the light shall burn.
But did ever an automatic thing
set plants about in early Spring?
And did ever a bit of wire and gear
a cry for help in darkness hear?
Or welcome callers and show them through
the lighthouse rooms as I used to do?
‘Tis not in malice these things I say
All men must bow to the newer way.

But it’s strange for a lighthouse man like me
after forty years on shore to be.
And I wonder now – will the grass stay green?
Will the brass stay bright and the windows clean?
And will ever that automatic thing
plant marigolds in early Spring?

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